March of the Education Elite
A ruling class of education entrepreneurs has been hard at work for thirty years capitalizing on the dissatisfaction with government schools. The lucrative enterprise began back in the early eighties when the Department of Education issued a “A Nation at Risk,” a doomsday report which declared the nation’s students were falling behind the rest of the world in achievement testing.
Education reform then became a political football which Republicans grabbed from its traditional guardians, the Democrats, and took to the end zone; thus starting a movement toward privatization of the public schools. According to online website edutopia:
James Harvey, a member of the commission that produced "A Nation at Risk," expresses concern about the uses made of the report and the direction it has given to school reform. Today, he says, "educational decisions have been moved as far as possible from the classroom. Federal officials are now in a position to make decisions that would have been unimaginable even two years ago. They've established the criteria for disciplining schools, removing principals and teachers, and even defining appropriate curriculum for American classrooms."
So how did the federal government end up with so much power when Republicans are so opposed to big government? Easy. Elitist conservative right and elitist liberal left joined forces to transform the system from the ground up.
Eventually, Democrats joined with Republicans in this new ed-business and the shake-up of the different camps continues to the present day.
How did opposite political parties converge to create the widespread public/private partnerships in education now present in cities across the country? This alignment began in earnest in 1989 when Teach for America, the well-funded teacher recruiter organization, came into being.
TFA consists of an elitist culture of college grads gleaned mostly from top universities. Its purported mission: to “ensure kids growing up in poverty get an excellent education.” Sounds admirable until you look at whether the achievement gap has changed. According to Wendy Kopp, founder of TFA, “the needle” hasn’t moved much in the last 20 years. So, why is she still in business? Because she has a good thing going.
The touted teacher corps spawned several high rollers in the ed-biz during the last two decades. TFAers created non-profits and charter schools across the country. KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) charter schools founded by TFA alums and now run by Richard Barth, Kopp’s husband and founding principal of TFA, hold a seat at the head of the table. The New Teachers Project became an arm of the TFA when TFA alum Michelle Rhee, took charge of the non-profit. TNTP has contracted with schools across the nation.
All this didn’t happen by accident. Kopp honed her skills while at Princeton when she helped revive a fledgling business journalism magazine put out by the Foundation for Student Communication. Her summer jobs consisted of making appointments with investors, and asking for money.
As a result, she was an excellent beggar when it came to hitting up corporations for money to keep TFA going. So, with so many high-powered business connections, why did she take donations from George Soros’ Open Society Institute out of Baltimore, Maryland? It’s well known Soros’ money goes to leftist causes. Was Kopp acting as a bridge between liberal Democrats, conservative Republicans, and Leftist billionaires? Does one’s sense of decency go out the window when millions of dollars stare her in the face?
2005: A pivotal year for comingling of political parties in education reform
When Kopp was in the process of organizing staff for her newly created non-profit back in the fall of 1989, she hired a Harvard grad introduced to her by her brother. Whitney Tilson knew finances, and he helped Kopp set up the business. After a few months with TFA, Tilson left to become a hedge fund manager and investment entrepreneur.
The year 2005 proved to be a pivotal year for the formation of a left/right coalition in creating money-making opportunities in the world of education.
In Steven Brill’s Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools Whitney Tilson calls himself a lifelong Democrat, but he co-opted the education message of the right: charters, vouchers and anti-union.
In 2004 he was invited to a fundraising party for then Illinois state Senator Barack Obama at the New York City apartment of George Soros. A year later in June 2005, Tilson again met up with Senator Barack Obama who was helping Tilson and two other financiers start an ed-biz known as Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). Today DFER and Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst highly influence the school reform movement.
The same names come up again and again in the tight knit club of education “reformers.” Rhee was recruited out of Cornell by TFA in 1992 and went on to manage the TFA spinoff TNTP. Rhee’s experience with TNTP brought her up close and personal with local school districts across the country. Much like Kopp, she had natural ability to fundraise from billionaire investors and to persuade superintendents and principals to contract her consulting organization to help with hiring new teachers.
Meanwhile the state of New York was undergoing a major makeover in how politicians, unions and policy setters conducted public school business. For two years Joel Klein, head of NY public schools held off a contract with Randi Weingarten, President of American Federation of Teachers. The standoff led to an arbitration hearing in the summer of 2005 where Michelle Rhee agreed to testify about teacher tenure. This self-proclaimed lifelong Democrat had joined forces with conservatives and opposed the unions’ stronghold on government schools. There’s no indication Rhee has ever denounced her Democrat affiliation even though she now looks like a Republican.
Also during 2005, Klein was influential in shutting down a contributor of the No Child Left Behind program. Democrat and education guru Diane Ravitch had worked on the NCLB bill signed into law in 2003 by George Bush. However Klein (also Democrat) threw her under the bus, therefore causing Ravitch to retaliate and claim poverty itself was the most important factor in whether a child achieves in school, not just bad teachers and accountability—as Klein, Rhee and Obama repeat often.
And in 2005, the first ever Aspen Ideas Festival was held, and Michelle Rhee, Wendy Kopp, and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson (now Rhee’s husband) sat on an education panel together. [note: a search for a video of this panel came up blank, but Johnson spoke of this meeting in a 2008 panel discussion at the Harvard “Business Summit”; see video here]
Well before Rhee ever became DC schools chancellor; well before she and Kevin Johnson married in 2011; and well before Barack Obama became president, they all either knew each other or were acquainted with each other’s work.
So far all the people reviewed here are Democrats. Yet, Klein had become good friends with Republican Governor Jeb Bush of Florida. Bush had implemented new education rules which raised achievement levels and Klein wanted to know more about it. It didn’t take long before more Republicans and Democrats threw party loyalty aside and became pals..
Eventually, Rhee took Democrats to task for sticking with the status quo mostly held by the teachers’ unions. Even Obama praised her in his debate at Hofstra University before the 2008 elections. She obviously was on his radar most probably all the way back to 2005 when she hit the public circuit in the high profile arbitration hearings with the AFT. Is Rhee doing Obama’s bidding on the transformation of education?
Moving Toward Centralization By Way of Elitists
The “bipartisan” outcome of the back and forth between traditional enemies has led to systemic change in how the federal government now controls much of the conversation when it comes to school reform. Like James Harvey of “A Nation at Risk” said, “Federal officials are now in a position to make decisions that would have been unimaginable even two years ago.”
The DoED issued a Core Curriculum now used by 42 states, as well as a standardized sexual education curriculum. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has called for longer school days including Saturdays in some places. Don’t states and municipalities have specific needs which may not match the national guidelines?
Obama ramped up his education spending when he carved $100 billion out of the stimulus bill to dangle money in front of starving school systems. Why? To help poor children achieve? Or to make the old localized systems beholden to a centralized authority?
This alliance between leftist elitists and conservative elitists is not moving away from big government; in fact, it’s moving at warp speed toward bigger government.
To get an understanding of elitists’ mindsets, here are some examples. From Jacobin website:
While visiting a KIPP school in New York City early one morning, where fifth graders were busy with drills at 7:00 a.m., Kopp quietly lamented, without a touch of irony, that her own child of the same age was still in bed. Thus, in the KIPP model, we are presented with the solution to the nation’s educational inequalities: for poor children to succeed, they must willingly submit to Taylorist institutionalization.
Elitism by its very nature causes its adherents to separate from the common masses. In elitists’ minds, they ‘have arrived’ due to their intelligence, financial stability and eagerness to succeed; but here’s the flip side to their self-congratulatory kudos: anyone who isn’t successful must be too ignorant or too poor or have no motivation to achieve beyond their pitiable state.
In his book Indoctrination: How 'Useful Idiots' Are Using Our Schools to Subvert American Exceptionalism, Kyle Olson shows his elitist stripes when he writes:
Education reformer Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of Washington DC schools has said it perfectly: Schools should operate from the position that parents will do nothing to help with their child’s education. Blaming parents is no virtue and accountability is no vice…The blame lies with administrators who are unwilling to remove ineffective and burned-out teachers. The blame lies with teachers unions that are more concerned with increasing pay and benefit levels for their members than they are about teacher quality.
Olson finds it repugnant to blame parents but has no problem blaming unions, administrators, and teachers. Why? These kids weren’t dropped by a stork somewhere out in a cornfield. If teachers are responsible for kids’ lousy grades, what exempts the people who brought the students into the world? Whether Olson knows it or not, he’s promoting socialism. The individual parents are not responsible; no, it’s everybody else’s fault; it’s society’s fault.
He states “the blame lies with teacher unions that are more concerned with increasing pay and benefit levels for their members than they are about teacher quality,” yet he and other Rhee followers constantly equate higher salaries with increased performance. Maybe the unions are dangling some carrots of their own to get teachers to jump through hoops. Rhee can do it, but unions can’t?
The education entrepreneurs know there’s no money to be made in blaming parents—the only thing blaming parents will get you is a lot of grief and anger. Olson, Rhee, Kopp, Obama, Tilson, and all the rest of the self-appointed education engineers would be run out of every last school district if they presumed to tell inner city mothers and fathers they are doing a lousy job. It’s better just to get the tikes away from the useless, good for nothing parents and bring in TFAers and longer school days for the lower feeble minded common ruck while the ruling class get to nurture their little ones.
The march of the education elites goes on. They alone will know what’s best for children, parents, principals and administrators.